Friday, January 8, 2010

Who are the Sami?

It is hard to avoid, while researching early Viking history, any historical accounts of the Sami or the Sapmi. Outside of this culture they are often called the Laplanders or Lapps. The Sámi are the indigenous peoples of the Arctic Area of the Nordic countries. The history and struggles of the Sami are similar and mirror the struggles of the United States Native Americans. Like the U.S. Native Americans, the Sami are also bound to nature and nature is the center of their culture, religion and belief system. Reindeer husbandry and fishing have always been important livelihoods of the Sámi, who are closely bound to nature, and for whom nature is important.
In the the Viking sagas it is told that many Sami would travel on their great ships because they could read the weather. It said they were often called "Weather Witches." Early Viking Chieftains whisper amongst themselves about not offending a Sami shaman so they can have good sailing.
Sápmi, the Sámi Country, includes areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Sápmi starts at the middle of Norway and includes the eastern regions of the Kola Peninsula. The natural landscape varies greatly in this area. The Sami are known as the "People of the 8 Seasons." These seasons are winter, late winter, spring, late spring, summer, late summer, autumn and late autumn.
I grew up listening to my Dad and Grandfather discuss Native America rights. My Grandfather was an avid supporter and often contributed to several activists groups. I remember as a kid my Grandparents and Mom telling me that I was 1/2 Swedish. But, looking upon my Grandfather, he didn't match the description of your typical Swedish man. He was about 5'6", stocky built, emerald green eyes that danced with mischievousness, and dark brown hair that started at the top of his head and didn't stop until the tip of his toes. I remember opening a book one day about the history of Sweden and finding a page that talked about the Laplanders. The picture showed very brightly dressed men and women herding reindeer. One picture stood out vividly. The man could have been my Grandfather's brother. I remember asking my Dad if there was a chance we could be related to these Laplanders. I was quickly told, "No!" After a bit of youthful persistence, my Grandfather finely admitted that there was "some Sami blood" within his bones. It was until years after his death did I find out why so many Saami reluctantly told family and friends they were Sami. The same persecutions that the Native Americans went through the Sami experienced too. The only difference was that the Sami could go to another country and start over.
I have recently found that "some Sami blood" was actually "a lot of Sami blood." My quest now, like many Sami American decedents, is to find out who the Sami are. Do I dare hope to be counted amongst the Sami Parliament as a Sami? I don't know. But, I do know that as a player in the SCA I want to represent the Sami culture accurately, historically and with respect.
Those crazy Vikings need someone to navigate them through these storms.
As I discover more on this beautiful and lively culture I will post sites and more information.

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